Let me preface this review by saying that it’s worth seeing Incredibles 2 just for Bao, the short film which precedes it. Bao is written and directed by Domee Shi, and tells the story of a woman who makes a bao bun that comes to life. I will tell you nothing more about it, except that its Pixar’s best short since Geri’s Game.
Incredibles 2, unfortunately, isn’t of the same caliber. The movie opens with an introduction from director Brad Bird and members of the cast assuring us that while the film may have taken a while -14 years – the results will be well worth it. I have no idea why they needed to include this, when literally every other film is content to just let us watch and decide if it was worth it or not. My dismay with this weird peek behind the curtain didn’t dissipate as the movie opens in earnest. Rick Dicker, the government agent who takes care of the Parr family, is erasing the memory of a boy, Tony, who saw Violet without her mask on. It’s a stilted, strange scene that only serves to set up a tiny side plot – not a great way to start your movie.
Finally, after five minutes of false starts, the film actually begins. We get to see the entire Parr family working together to stop the threat that arose at the end of The Incredibles – the Underminer! He’s a fun, goofy villain, and the chase that his plan to rob a bank leads to is masterfully executed. It made me wish that Marvel could conjure this much excitement with their superpowered action scenes. The sequence perfectly encapsulates the promise of the premise teased at the end of The Incredibles. Sadly, the movie has no idea what to do with the whole family as a superhero team, so it simply does what the first movie did: make superheroes illegal again.
It’s an incredibly frustrating reset, and one that only intensifies as Helen Parr gets hired to be Elastigirl by a rich benefactor, which just so happens to be exactly what happened to Bob Parr AKA Mr. Incredible in The Incredibles. This leaves Bob at home with the kids, playing out an episode straight out of a 90s sitcom where *gasp* a father has to take care of three kids alone. Both of these tired plot developments actually lead to some fun scenes – a great motorcycle chase and Jack-Jack vs a racoon come to mind – but there’s such a sense of sameness and lack of direction to the proceedings that it’s hard to get invested in anything that’s going on. Then there’s a small storyline involving Violet and the aforementioned Tony that never really goes anywhere, and a twist that will be painfully obvious to anyone who’s seen The Incredibles, or, you know, a movie. Characters also get possessed a lot, which is a trope that needs to end, unless your movie begins with the words The Exorcist. There is nothing interesting about watching a character do things they have no control over…nothing.
Then there are the politics. I hadn’t really thought about it much, but Brad Bird is pretty into objectivism. Every one of his movies, to some degree, is about being special. My favourites, Ratatouille, Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, and The Iron Giant, deal with the public’s tendency to view the other as scary and something to be destroyed. Both these films, however, ultimately come down on the side of the everyman. The same cannot be said for Tomorrowland and The Incredibles, both of which display significantly more Ayn Randian views towards being special. These films, and Incredibles 2, have moments of unbridled contempt for the everyman, who is cursed to live out their days in mediocrity, attempting to drag those that are special down with them. Both Incredibles movies feature villains whose goal is to eradicate the world of superheroes simply because of the threat they pose to humanity’s independance – not the typical goals of supervillains. Of course, in the end, both films return to the status quo, with superheroes comfortably returned to their rightful place of physical and moral superiority.
Incredibles 2 is a movie that gets worse the more I think about it. I was reasonably entertained while in the theatre, but writing this review brought on more vitriol than I thought it would. There’s fun to be had, but on the whole Incredibles 2 is a less focused, and less fun, retread of The Incredibles, and one that continues to espouse that movie’s troubling philosophy. Bao though…Bao.